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Vets Question & Answer Section

This month is kindly supplied by: 9 Lives, The Cat Hospital

I have heard that changing cat litter when pregnant can be hazardous? Is this is an old wives tale as I have no intention of getting rid of my cat but I really don't want to knowingly harm my unborn child.

The Truth about cats, N.P.






All about toxoplasmosis and why you needn’t give up your cat if you are pregnant

What is toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a coccidian parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. The media often mentions the risk of humans (in particular pregnant women) acquiring this disease from contact with cats. When we examine the known facts on transmission of this parasite we can learn that it is wrong to imply cats are a major source of infection and that cat owners have little to fear from their pets!

Who is at risk of toxoplasmosis?
Healthy people (with normal functioning immune systems) would get very mild symptoms similar to the flu, or the disease may pass unnoticed.
Severe disease is only seen in people whose immune systems are impaired or undeveloped – this group includes:-
• Developing foetuses
• Pregnant ladies(because of risk to their foetus)
• Babies
• Very elderly people
• People with AIDS
• People on anti-cancer therapy

In the above group toxoplasmosis can cause abortion, birth defects, encephalitis and other problems in the nervous system. Foetuses are at risk if the woman gets infected between her second and sixth month of pregnancy. If a woman has been infected before she got pregnant she will already have antibodies and cannot pass the infection onto her foetus. Unborn babies are only at risk if the woman contracts toxoplasmosis for the first time during her pregnancy.

Cats that become infected with toxoplasmosis rarely show signs of disease but can develop symptoms in the eye, liver, brain, gastrointestinal tract or muscles.

How common is this infection?
Toxoplasma gondii is found throughout the world and can infect most mammals including cats and humans. It is important to differentiate between the incidence of infection and the incidence of disease. Infection with this parasite is very common but disease is rare. In general around 50% of cats worldwide are believed to have been infected at some point in their lives but this depends very much on their lifestyle (i.e. do they hunt mammalian prey or eat raw meat) Human infection is more common in some countries than others. In the UK 20-30%of people are infected at some point in their lives whereas in France and Germany the incidence of infection is closer to 80%.

How do cats get infected?
Cats are infected by eating raw or undercooked meat containing the T Gondii cysts (e.g. beef, lamb, or pork) or more commonly in outdoor cats by eating infected mammalian prey (e.g. mice or voles). A few days after infection for the first time cats will shed millions of oocyst (eggs) in the faeces. This shedding will last for a short period typically 14days. Further shedding is rare.

How do humans get infected?
People are mostly infected by one of two routes:-
• Ingestion of meat containing tissue cysts. Fresh, raw meat is most risky since freezing meat for several days will kill most tissue cysts
• Ingestion of oocysts (eggs) from the environment through contact with soil or indirectly through eating contaminated fruit or vegetables.

Does contact with a cat increase the risk of infection?
Recent research indicates that contact with cats does NOT increase the risk of Tgondii infection in people.

  • Veterinary surgeons working with cats are no more likely to be infected than the general population. In Hong Kong , myself and several other female colleagues have all tested negative when we became pregnant
  • In a recent study of 206 cats 24%had antibodies indicting infection however NONE were shedding oocsyts in their faeces
  • Even when cats are shedding oocysts in their faeces –these eggs cannot be found on their coat so stroking a cat will not spread infection from cats to people
  • Contact with cats has no influence on the incidence of human infection but eating raw meat significantly increases the risk of acquiring infection
  • Cat ownership does not increase the risk of AIDS patients.
  • The risk of infection from cats is very low except in young children plating in soil contaminated with eggs.

If I am pregnant how can I reduce the risk of transmission of toxoplasmosis from my cat?
• If you a concerned ask your vet to check your cat’s toxoplasma titre (an antibody test for exposure to T gondii) This involves taking a small amount of blood from your cats’ jugular vein and sending it to a suitable laboratory.
1. Cats with a positive titre have been infected in the past and will not be a source of infection in the future (i.e. more than 14 days after infection) as they have finished their period of oocst shedding
2. Cats with a negative titre have not been infected and will only shed for a short period if they should become infected.

  • Avoid your cat becoming infected by not feeding raw meat and keep him/her indoors to prevent hunting mice or voles
  • void contact with your cats litter tray
  • Ensure litter trays are emptied daily.Oocyst passed by cats only become infectious once they sporulate which takes between 1-5days
  • Wear gloves when handling litter and wash hands thoroughly
  • Use litter liners where possible and periodically clean the litter tray with detergent and boiling water (leave boiling water in tray for 5-10mins) which kills oocysts
  • Seal cat litter in a plastic bag before disposal
  • Cover childrens sand pits to avoid cats using them as litter trays
  • Only feed your cat cooked or commercial cat foods

More importantly you should avoid eating raw or undercooked meat. Meat should be cooked to a minimum of 58 degrees for 10mins or 61degrees for 4 mins.Microwaving is not a safe way to kill tissue cysts as the heating is uneven.

Simple everyday hygiene measures will make it safe to own and enjoy your cat.

All information for this article has been taken from a Policy Statement issued by the cat group.
The cat group is a collection of professional organisations dedicated to feline welfare and comprises the Feline Advisory Bureau (FAB), RSPCA, BSAVA, Animal Health Trust, ESFM, CatsProtection and the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy.

Alarmingly many doctors in Hong Kong still advocate getting rid of your cat when you are planning a family.
If you would like to discuss this further please contact me, Maggie Bradley at Ninelives The Cat Hospital on 29758228.

To have a question answered by a local vet, please email

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I get a pedigree kitten?

Undoubtedly the best source is from a recognised and reputable breeder. You should be able to find breeders though any national organisation involved in setting or judging breed standards, through people that already own pedigree cats, your vet, specialist cat books and magazines, or by visiting cat shows.

Should I get two kittens so that they can keep each other company?

If you are likely to be away from home for much of the day, then consider getting two kittens as they will be able to keep each other company. Kittens who have been brought up together tend to remain friends as adults, particularly if they have been neutered. With more than one cat, you will have the additional pleasure of watching them play together.

How can I tell if my cat is happy?

A cat's body language tells a great deal about her state of mind. The contented cat relaxes with half-closed eyes, stretches out, and slowly extends and retracts her claws. Contented cats purr and often tread. A cat will prick her ears forward when alert, twitch them back when nervous, and flatten them back when frightened or aggressive. A cat's tail is a useful indicator of mood. A cat who runs to meet you will probably carry her tail high in welcome, sometimes with the very tip flicked over. A very gentle ticking movement of the tip denotes pleasure or anticipation. A stronger twitch or thrashing tail indicates a very irritated cat. Cats will fluff out their tails if they are alarmed and if they are about to strike!

Can you give me some advice about litter trays and cat litter, its one aspect of cat ownership I am not looking forward to?

The litter tray should be deep enough to hold plenty of litter and wide enough for an adult cat to make a complete turn. If you have a kitten, then the sides of the tray need to low enough for the kitten to be able to climb in; older cats prefer to use a tray with higher sides.

Cleaning out the tray doesn't have to be difficult or messy. Simply empty the soiled litter into a large plastic bag then scrub out the tray with hot water and soap. You can disinfect the tray by using a very dilute solution of bleach. Avoid detergents containing coal tar and carbolic derivatives, as they can be dangerous to cats. Always wear rubber gloves and keep the cleaning utensils separate from other household equipment. Pregnant women should never handle soiled cat litter (and should wear gloves when gardening); their unborn babies are at risk if they are exposed to the Toxoplasma parasite found in some cats faeces.

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